Protest outside health secretary’s visit to Norwich dementia unit

Protesters from a union made their concerns known to health secretary Jeremy Hunt as he visited a dementia unit in Norwich today.

Mr Hunt met staff and patients at Hammerton Court, the dementia intensive care unit opened earlier this year by the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.

The �13m unit, in Bowthorpe Road, has 36 bedrooms and also houses the Norfolk Dementia Care Academy - which aims to be a centre of excellence in training staff and carers to look after people with the illness.

Mr Hunt, who was only appointed health secretary last month, said his visit to Norfolk was to learn from the positive work taking shape in the county to help people with dementia.

However, on the edge of the site run by the mental health trust, a handful of Unison protesters set up banners in opposition to the Coalition's controversial NHS reforms and the cuts being made to services as a result of the �20bn efficiency savings known as the 'Nicholson challenge'.

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Emma Corlett, a mental health nurse and Unison steward, said: 'Mr Hunt is presiding over the break-up of the NHS, and his presence here today rubs salt in the wounds of NHS staff who have already seen cuts in the services they work hard to provide.'

She said the timing was particularly insensitive given that the very staff who he met are due to enter into a 90-day consultation on Monday, October 22 over service re-organisation and jobs cuts.

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Mr Hunt admitted this week that the reforms are to cost �300m more than previously thought, pushing the cost to the taxpayer of implementing the Health and Social Care Act to between �1.5bn and �1.6bn.

But he defended the reforms, saying: 'Overall the health reforms are going to save five and a half billion pounds this parliament, which means five and a half billion pounds more which can be spent on looking after patients.

'From a financial point of view the reforms are going to be very, very important.

'I think what we will see is that the point of the reforms is to tap into local ideas, local energy, local enthusiasm and what I'm finding when I talk to people on the ground is that they want to do is to have better integration of services everywhere.

'And that not only improves the outcome for patients but actually it's much more efficient financially and that means there's more money that can go back into patient care and additional patient services which is what we need because we have got this ageing population and demand going up in the NHS.

'It's always a challenge implementing new structures and we have got to do it sensitively and sensibly but I think the end point is one that will be an NHS that is much more responsive.'

See tomorrow's paper for more on what Mr Hunt had to say about the NHS on his visit to Norwich.

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